Interested in Careers in Public Health?

The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) will host a free recruitment fair for prospective students of public health this fall in New York City (September 22). The “This Is Public Health- Student Recruitment Fairs” allow prospective students to meet admissions staff from CEPH-accredited schools and programs of public health. This is a great opportunity for both prospective graduate and undergraduate students to learn about the growing field of public health. Several interactive activities, such as a panel session and presentations, are planned for this event. Refreshments will also be served.

The Fair will be hosted by NYU, at 100 Washington Square. To RSVP, follow this link. If you are thinking of going, let us know (Ed is thinking of going too!).

10 Common Mistakes Made by Newbie Researchers – Part 3

By Zully Santiago, PRISM Undergraduate Researcher, Spring 2013 through Summer 2014SantiagoZully

Part 3 – Be a Responsible Labmate

8)     Mistake: You break something or spill something.

Solution: If you break glass, no big deal. Simply throw the glass out in the glass waste in a safe manner. Try to find all the pieces and so on. However, if there was a corrosive substance (or dangerous substance in anyway) in a container and it is now on the floor, do not touch it. Go ask for help. You can contact your mentor, any professors that may be around on the floor, or call security. Hopefully after your biohazard training, you’ll be able to handle simple spills and have information in order to contact someone for more dangerous spills. Again, know what you are working with and its hazards.

9)     Mistake: You need to go to class, so you rush cleaning, or you don’t clean at all because you’ll come back later.

Solution: If this happens, try to leave your mess in the most convenient way possible so that your lab mates can do their work, and leave a note. If your mess is potentially dangerous, call your mentor or a lab partner to help you take care of it. Nevertheless, make sure you clean up after yourself since the lab is shared. Don’t leave anything for someone else to clean. It isn’t fair or right to do so. Remember, not only are you the researcher, you are also your own lab technician, so no one is responsible for your mess other than yourself.  If you planned properly, you should have more than enough time to clean up after yourself. If someone leaves a mess, try to find out what everything is and clean it up for your own safety, and let your mentor know about it so that it doesn’t happen again.

10)     Mistake: At the end of the experiment, you place everything in a single waste container or attempt to throw the waste down the sink. You know better than this.

Solution: Again, if you understand how your chemicals work in your experiment, you will know how to dispose of them properly. Many chemicals cannot be put down the sink and many other chemicals will continue to react when mixed together, so think carefully. If you have multiple steps in a reaction, think about the intermediates, the chemicals used in each step, and find out if it is safe to put them all together. When in doubt, ask someone or play it safe and make separate waste containers if needed.

10 Common Mistakes Made by Newbie Researchers – Part 2

By Zully Santiago, PRISM Undergraduate Researcher, Spring 2013 through Summer 2014SantiagoZully

Part 2: Understand your Experiment Before Beginning

5)     Mistake: You quickly get a simple protocol or a recipe for your experiment (or, if you are lucky, you have a kit’s instructions). You immediately perform the experiment, but it fails horribly, and you have no idea what went wrong. You automatically assume the protocol, kit, or recipe is wrong and you did everything correctly.

Solution: Understand the experiment before you do it. Understand what every single chemical does and what role it plays in the experiment. I would say most failures in an experiment are human error by the scientist overlooking something simple but important. My rule, don’t touch a chemical unless you know what it does, how to care for it, what role it plays in your experiment, and how to safely dispose of it. If your experiment uses a kit, thoroughly understand how the kit works. If it is being used for separation, what kind of separation method is it? If it is chromatography, what kind? If it is a gel, how does it separate? What comes out first? Understand all the components of the kit before using the kit.

Often protocols that you find online or in books will not cover important details such as proper care and considerations for the chemicals you are using such as light sensitivity, reactions with moisture and air, temperature concerns, reactions with certain plastics, and so on. Also, keep in mind that time and exposure to the environment can heavily weigh on the experiment. A big overlooked factor is the shelf life of reagents. Remember, often when chemicals are exposed to water, hydrolysis occurs, slowly degrading the chemicals over time. So the chemical may have a long shelf life in its store-bought form, but it may have a very limited shelf life once in solution. This is a big issue for antibiotics and DTT.

Also, repeatedly thawing out and freezing chemicals or proteins can also severely degrade them. Record how often your reagents are thawed out or aliquot small amounts at a time so that you can use those amounts when needed rather than thawing out the whole stock container each time. The protocols and kits usually assume you know what the chemicals do and how to handle them—which often you don’t, so google everything or go to the company website and read up on your experiment and the reagents before handling them. When working with kits, thoroughly read the material that comes with it as it has detailed information on handling all the components of the kit.

6)     Mistake: You do an experiment, and it works! Or it fails! Who knows? Either way, you got some type of result…but you didn’t write anything down.

Solution: Again, it’s easy to follow protocols and recipes, but what matters are the specifics! What did you use? What conditions? What temperatures? What amounts? What chemicals? What order? How long? Again, there are so many factors involved in getting results outside of what is mentioned in the protocols. You need to document your steps and what has occurred. Based on your observations you may find better ways of doing the experiment. Or based on your observations, you have resolved a huge problem! However, we won’t know unless you write it down. In my experience, I rarely follow the protocol exactly; often I find better tweaks that provide good yields for my experiment, but I record deviations as well as observations. Moreover, if something goes wrong, often there are good scientific blogs on company websites and third party websites that talk about the same problems you may have had in the lab, so it is important that you record your observations because these forums and blogs may help resolve what went wrong and how to fix it.

7)     Mistake: You do the experiment from memory.

Solution: Never do your experiment from memory. You should always have the protocol or your previous observations handy just in case something turns out different. However, the main issue with trying to do an experiment from memory is that you will often forget a step, usually an important one. I see this happen a lot when students make buffers at the total volume desired, but they didn’t adjust the pH, so that added volume was not accounted for.

10 Common Mistakes Made by Newbie Researchers – Part 1

SantiagoZullyBy Zully Santiago, PRISM Undergraduate Researcher, Spring 2013 through Summer 2014

Part 1: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

1)     Mistake: The same day you plan on doing the experiment is the same day you gather all the reagents, glassware, and any other materials required for the experiment…only to realize that you do not have the reagents or materials needed to actually conduct the experiment.

Solution: Plan your experiments two weeks in advance. So if you plan on making a gel next Thursday, make sure you have all the necessary reagents to make the buffer and the gel itself today. Also, today, you should check and make sure the tank is working and that you have all the parts. If you need your glassware autoclaved, make sure you do that in advance. Make sure you have everything you need way in advance of doing the experiment, so look over your experiment in detail before considering running it.

2)     Mistake: You want to do an experiment, but you are afraid without someone guiding you through it, so you keep putting it off until someone shows you.

Solution: The more you read and understand how your experiment works, the less guidance you will need. If you start thoroughly understanding your experiments when they are easy (usually in the beginning), the easier it will be for you to become independent. Ask questions regularly, but attempt to answer them yourself first! Seek out answers from various sources. This facilitates critical thinking. When you get stuck or you want to confirm your reasoning, then go to your mentor. Remember, however, that you are supposed to be the expert and the most knowledgeable person about your project, so go do it.

3)     Mistake: You are not able to finish an experiment in time.

Solution: Plan your experiment in advance (see Mistake #1). Even if you are doing an experiment for the first time, before you even attempt to do it, make sure you have all your reagents and materials that are needed. After, read through the protocol again and look for incubation periods. If there are any time periods, double the time required and add an hour just for prepping (gathering/cleaning glassware, labeling and so on). This should give you enough time to actually do the experiment (provided you don’t make any mistakes or have to start over). If you are using instrumentation, make sure it works and is calibrated in advance. I personally like to have a whole free day if I am doing a brand new experiment or working with a brand new instrument. I won’t touch an instrument or apparatus that I have never used before until I have read and watched videos handling them. YouTube has everything, and often company websites have videos on how to use their instruments. Sometimes you can imagine doing the experiment and planning out what glassware and materials you will need, but there always seems to be something overlooked, so give yourself more time to make mistakes.

4)     Mistake: You haven’t been in the lab for a while because of school or other projects. You are not sure where you left off, but you attempt to continue your experiment as planned and the next step fails horribly.

Solution: Check your samples and instruments before you use them! Run a small sample and see if it is working before you proceed to the next big step. For example, if you had proteins or DNA in storage for a while, run a gel and see if you are getting the bands you are supposed to. The same rule applies anytime you use an instrument. Run a standard and see if everything is working properly before you use up your samples.

 

The Web Guide to Research for Undergraduates

everhooddesign_webguru_logoThe Web Guide to Research for Undergraduates (WebGURU) is an interactive, web-based tool intended to assist students in navigating the hurdles of an undergraduate research experience. It contains articles and advice from faculty members, graduate school admissions officers, and students. Topics range from how to chose and interact effectively with your advisor and your lab’s research team, to tips on writing your first paper.  WebGURU is a great place to complement your PRISM experience at John Jay.

The site includes sections dedicated to professional development outside of the lab,  a database of research funding, a guide to opportunities for summer research experiences, and advice on how to apply to professional schools.

This is a great tool to guide you on your path to your science career and an excellent resource for advice on how to prepare for research work. Take a look and come discuss your questions with us at PRISM. We can help you create a personal plan to achieve your professional goals and get you to your planned career!

Alumni Spotlight – Christopher Pedigo (PRISM ’09) Earns American Heart Association Fellowship and Other Accolades

Christopher Pedigo, a PRISM alumnus who graduated in 2009, is steadily pursuing his goal of starting his own biomedical research lab.  With just one more year to go in pursuit of his PhD in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at the Miller College of Medicine in the University of Miami, Christopher has already published several scholarly articles and received accolades for his work.

Pedigo Blog 1While at John Jay, he worked under the mentorship of Dr. Yi He on a project published in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, titled “Bioaccessibility of arsenic in various types of rice in an in vitro gastrointestinal fluid system.”  After he graduated, Christopher spent two years as an adjunct instructor at John Jay and Borough of Manhattan Community College, while continuing to perform research in the labs of both Dr. He and Dr. Nathan Lents.

In 2009, Christopher was accepted into his PhD program and started research with his PI, Dr. Sandra Merscher, and co-mentor, Dr. Alessia Fornoni.  Their work investigates novel causes of Diabetic Kidney Disease (DKD), which affects 40% of diabetic patients, as potential therapeutic targets.  Consequently, Christopher and his lab are looking at the role of circulating factors on the glomerulus in vivo in mouse models and in vitro in the podocyte.

He is co-first author on the publication, “Sphingomyelinase-like phosphodiesterase 3b expression levels determine podocyte injury phenotypes in glomerular disease,” published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. In this study, Christopher and his colleagues show that SMPDL3b levels are differently regulated in two glomerular diseases and that these levels determine the type of damage caused by certain circulating factors (more specifically sUPAR).

Christopher earned an American Heart Association Fellowship to help him continue his research and eagerly awaits word on his pre-doctoral NIH F31 fellowship application.  Travel grants awarded to Christopher are allowing him to visit various U.S. locales in order to advance his research and develop his expertise. Christopher is one of five PhD students nationally to receive the Tutored Research and Education for Kidney Scholars grant that will afford Christopher the opportunity to take a week-long kidney physiology class in Maine.  Other travel grants also allow him to attend the Kern Lipid Conference this summer in Vail, Colorado and to attend the American Society of Nephrology Conference in Philadelphia this fall.

PRISM is very proud of Christopher’s accomplishments since graduating John Jay and wishes him the best of luck in all of his academic endeavors.

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation – Part III

What if, when you take a lab or a class with an Adjunct Instructor or Professor, you not only do very well, but you also think he/she would be able to write an excellent recommendation letter talking about how you were the shining star in that class/lab?  Will the program you are applying to give the same weight to a letter signed by someone who is not a faculty member, or does not have a Ph.D. or M.S.?  This final part of the series provides advice regarding non-traditional letter writers. Unfortunately, there’s not a fast rule about this. Some schools prefer the letter writers to have advanced dtypewritteregrees, because those individuals have successfully completed graduate school and will be able to assess your abilities better. Some schools prefer letter writers to be full-time faculty, because faculty members are vested in the reputation of their school. All of this also depends on who evaluates your application and their own personal opinions. So no, there’s no easy answer. But there are options:

  1. Call the program that you are applying to and ask. Some schools will give you guidance, some schools won’t. Other schools will leave it up to you.
  2. Ask the lead faculty member to write the letter.  If an Adjunct Instructor taught a lab, and you did well in both the lab and class portion, consider asking the lead faculty member to write a letter and ask him/her to incorporate input from the Adjunct.
  3. Ask the coordinating faculty member to co-sign the letter.  If the class and the lab are taught by Adjunct Instructors, consider asking the faculty member that coordinates the class to co-sign the letter with them.
  4. Request letters from instructors of advanced courses.  I strongly recommend doing 1 and 2 only for high-level courses, not for introductory courses.

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation – Part II

So, who do you ask for a Letter of Recommendation?  Your research mentor? Definitely! A humanities professor you took a class with? Maybe. A science professor from a senior-level course in which you performed exceptionally well? That sounds like a good bet! Your supervisor at the supermarket where you work part time? Only if you are applying to the School of Supermarket Sciences. An adjunct instructor from one of your lab sections? It depends, and we will talk more about that in our next installment.  For this second part of the series, we’ll explore tips to ensure you get a stellar letter of recommwriting1endation.

You want your letter writers to showcase all those characteristics that make you uniquely qualified to be a successful individual in the path you choose to pursue. How do you make sure they know about these qualities? Here’s some advice about that and other topics:

  1. Ask them if they need any materials or information to write your letter.  Make sure they have the guidelines for the particular institution you are applying to and ask them if they need a CV or resume, transcripts, or even a copy of your personal statement. Make it easy for them to write about you. Tell them if there is anything you want them to include (like how you helped struggling students with their class, or your level of aptitude with techniques in their field). Make sure they know where you are applying, to what program, and why you chose that program. The more they know about you, the more they can use to make your letter unique and not just generic.
  2. When to ask – it depends.  For applications to graduate school, you should begin asking for letters before the end of the fall semester prior to applying to graduate school. For medical school, if you are planning to ask for a committee letter, you can ask anytime during your time at John Jay (the best bet is right after you receive your grades at the end of the semester), and your Pre-Health Advisor (aka, Dr. Sanabria-Valentin) will save them for when you are ready to apply.
  3. Give them enough time to write the letter. Do not leave it for the last minute, you don’t want your letter writer to do so in a hurry! Asking them 3-4 months before the application is due is your safest bet. Asking too late puts unnecessary pressure on your letter writer and makes you look like someone who does not plan ahead, and that is NOT the impression you want to give to someone writing a letter on your behalf.
  4. About waiving your rights to read the letter. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records, and it applies to recommendation letters. This means that you have a right to read any recommendation letter. Should you exercise your right? Waiving your FERPA rights shows your letter writer that you trust them and that you have no doubts in your own abilities, so it is a good idea to be upfront about it. Some letter writers will insist that you read the letter before it is submitted to make sure they didn’t get any details wrong. That’s OK, even if you waived your right. Some will require you waive your FERPA rights. That’s OK too, especially since they answered “Yes” when you asked them if they could write a strong letter on your behalf (see part I). Some letter writers won’t even mention reading the letter, and it is your call if you want to bring up your preference.

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation – Part I

typingA strong letter of recommendation (LoR) from a faculty member, research mentor, or employer goes a long way in gaining admission to professional school. Admission committees look at these letters to evaluate candidates because the selection process is not all about grades and entrance exams scores, the committee members also want to learn about you from their colleagues. They expect that letter writers will provide an honest assessment of your abilities, competencies, and, most importantly, their opinion on how well they expect you will perform in your chosen profession. Most graduate schools ask for 2-3 letters and provide clear instructions about the content they expect in the letter. Medical and other health professional schools ask for either a number of letters or a “committee letter” provided by the institution. In this first post of a series, here are tips on how to get great LoR:

  1. Think of every professor as a potential letter writer. At the start of the semester you won’t know how well you will fare in your classes or if you will want your professor to write you a letter, so your best bet is to go into every class thinking of your professor as a potential letter writer. Make sure your instructors know who you are and that they notice the effort you are putting into the class. Participate during class and use the office hours when you need them.
  2. Only ask people that KNOW you.  Make sure your letter writer knows who you are and what class you took with him or her. Otherwise, it will not only be an awkward conversation (“Who are you again?”), but, if he or she accepts to write it, the letter will also be vague and generic at best.
  3. When you ask, ask if they can write a STRONG letter of recommendation.  Just because your instructor says yes it does not mean they will write a glowing letter. By asking them directly, you give your professor the chance to back out gracefully if they feel they don’t know you well enough.
  4. Ask in person.  If it is possible, ask during office hours or make an appointment to meet and ask them then. If not, email is the next-best method of communication. Do not ask a potential letter writer in the hallway or right after class, as they are likely on their way somewhere else.

What Can I Do with a Forensic Science Degree?

You may know that John Jay offers three different forensic science major tracks – molecular biology, toxicology, and criminalistics.  But before you focus in on your chosen path, why not consider all the doors that can be opened with your forensic science degree?

The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) recently sponsored a series of career webinars, all hosted by a distinguished professional in the given field.  If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, you can also access the presentation slides that accompany each session.

These webinars will help you find out:

  • What a forensic odontologist is and does…
  • What a typical day in the life of a medical examiner is like…
  • The level of education needed to advance as a criminalist or a toxicologist…
  • What kinds of salary expectations you should have…
  • Much more!